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Robert Kulpa

Discussion paper for the workshop:

Debating Anglo-Polish Perspectives on Sexual Politics,
Manchester Metropolitan University,
Friday 3rd July 2009

In recent years, Poland and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in general have
gained a noticeable attention in the UK gay community. This has mainly happened
because of the xenophobic and hostile attitudes of populist and nationalist parties in
many former communist countries. Increasingly, we could observe the emergence of
a specific discourse about CEE and homophobia.
At a glance, CEE was portrayed as largely dominated by ‘barbarian’ social and
political groups, xenophobic societies who deny basic human rights to lesbian and gay
people. Homophobia is wide-ranging, nationalists are taking over, and homosexual
people are suffering. This sort of stereotypical imaginary was mainly influenced by
some events in Poland and in Latvia and Russia. More precisely, it was a ban of “gay
prides” and in some cases violent attacks on the peaceful lesbian and gay protesters
that informed this discourse of “homophobic East”.
However, the geographical idea of CEE is very problematic one, including or
excluding various regions, also erasing any differences within the region. For example,
the fact that Czech and Hungarian republics introduced certain legal regulations
concerning same-sex couples is not discussed at all. Instead, an uniformed discourse
of negativity is constructed.
During the workshop, I would be interested in discussing further the problem
of discursive construction of CEE as ‘homophobic’ by UK gay communities, and ask
more probing questions. Why CEE is treaded as uniformly homophobic and any
‘positive’ differences are erased from it? What sort of power relations are being
established in such portrayal of CEE (and by the reverse token: West/UK)? How can
lesbian and gay communities of CEE profit of this discourse? How UK gay
communities profit of that discourse? What is the agenda behind such
discursivisation? These are only some of the questions I suggest for further
discussion.

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On the other hand, I am also interested in CEE and specifically Polish
discourses about homosexuality and lesbian and gay communities; originating both in
a mainstream and in LG communities. Popular lesbian and gay discourses sustain the
claim that Polish society is homophobic and intolerant and that Poland significantly
legs behind other Western European countries. This mantra also involves (in most
cases) some reference to European Union (EU) as a whip and/or a promise.
The year 2009 closes the 20 years of post-communist transformation in
Poland, hence many initiatives around the globe are being undertaken to summarise
this period. Many conferences are being held, many overview articles are being
written, etc. The similar trend is also observable within Polish lesbian and gay
communities. For example the recent article of Tomek Kitlinski and Pawel
Leszkowiecz on “Homiki.pl” portal, or this year’s “Equality Parade” in Warsaw
organised under slogan: “40 years of equality, 20 years of freedom”. Also recently,
Lambda Warsaw, one of the leading LGBT organisations, has opened a “Stonewall
Fund” to support minor LGBT initiatives and commemorate Stonewall riots in 1969.
Stonewall is also a point of reference for “40 years of equality” evoked in this years
parade’s slogan.
Pondering around the question of “History”/”history” I wonder what is the
significance of those invocations? If we agree that history is a discursive field
selectively created for the purpose of maintaining certain power relations and
hierarchies (stance many contemporary historians insist on), I would like to discuss –
What sort of history Polish lesbian and gay communities create? Why evoking
Stonewall? Why Hyacinth? And why not Warszawski Ruch Homoseksualny
(Warsaw’s Homosexual Movement)? Why not Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski? Etc… what is
the significance of remembering and forgetting in the creation of contemporary
queer politics? Why Tomasz Baczkowski, current organiser of pride, presents the
2005 parade as the “first” one, “forgetting” three previous events organised by
Szymon Niemiec? Maybe it is a time to reflect again on the meaning of “personal is
political” slogan?
Along the question of history, it also has to be asked, if it is a true (as Kitlinski
and Leszkowicz insist in their article mentioned above) that last 20 years did not
bring any major breakthrough for lesbian and gay people? Is it a case that attitudes of
Polish people towards homosexuality did not change? Is it justified to say that Polish
lesbian and gay communities have failed and no success can be noticed? Is 20 years
enough for major changes in society to happen? Or do we still need to wait before we
herald success of failure?

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The third area of interest, which I would like to put on this workshop’s agenda,
is the discursive creation of “gay identities”. The question of identities, identifications,
“identity politics”, etc. is one that is constantly debated in lesbian and gay, and queer
scholarships. There is an extensive body of work, comprehending of various
epistemological and ontological points of view. This debate has also been part of the
Western development of LGBT and queer activism.
However, it seems that the question of identities an identity politics has not
been discussed and critically assessed in the case of Polish LGBT activism. Dominant
lesbian and gay organisations can be securely described as representing identity
politics-type of approach. Initiatives as “Let Them See Us” (2002) or 2008 “Coming
out” campaign (in cooperation with the main countrywide daily Gazeta Wyborcza) are
the best examples of the essentialist approach deployed in Polish Lesbian and gay
politics. Drawing on debates about queer/lesbian and gay politics, we should consider
if identity politics, even if “only” used as “strategic essentialism”, are the only possible
approach to pursue lesbian and gay agenda in Poland? Similarly, we should not
accept without a question more “radical” “queer” approaches as “better”. We may
better profit rather by asking what constitutes “queer” in Poland/outside of
Western/Anglo-American context?
Finally, the last problem I would like to raise for our debate is the discursive
creation of “European Union”. It is not uncommon between lesbian and gay people (or
for that matter, also “liberals” or any sort) to ridicule and dismiss conservative,
populist an/or nationalist imaginary of “EuroSodomy”. These representations
envisage EU as a moral swamp and Poland as the firm protector of traditional values,
inc. family and “normality”. EU is constricted as alien, unnatural, unforeseeable,
aggressive, oppressive and dangerous.
Conversely, liberal” voices dismiss this image as unrealistic, imaginary, untrue,
narrow-minded, etc. What is interesting in this process of liberal rejection of
nationalist discourse about EU, is the alternative proposed. Liberal voices not only
reject the negative image of EU, but also build up their own. I would like to scrutinise
this discursive creation of EU as present within lesbian and gay community. I would
like to ask: What constitutes “EU” in these discourse? What is the role of EU in
general? And in particular relation to homosexuality? What is the role of EU as Polish
lesbian and gay communities want it to be in relation to Polish state/governments?
By posing those questions I hope to challenge some “liberal” convictions that
conservative vision of EU is untrue, and only the liberal one correct. I hope to see how
“EU” is constructed on both sides of discursive conflict and ponder about the agenda

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behind? Examine various strategies of empowerment and disempowerment of each
side.
***
Overall, my aim is to disrupt monolithic discursive constructions concerning
homosexuality, lesbianess and gayness, Central and Eastern Europe, Poland,
European Union, nationalism and liberal/conservative political ideologies. What I hope
to contribute/take out of this workshop, is a better understanding of mechanisms
behind certain social processes, other points of view that could help me contextualise
my own research, and problematize issues mentioned above.

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